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Song of the Day: Bach’s Cello Suites

Again, I am not one to not take a hint—and the hint was two different buskers playing Bach’s cello suites in the one day, so…

The Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach are some of the most performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. They were most likely composed during the period 1717–1723, when Bach served as a Kapellmeister in Cöthen… (via Wikipedia.)

Yo-Yo Ma – Cello Suite No. 1 In G, BWV 1007 – 1. Prelude
Pablo Casals – Cello Suite No. 1 In G, BWV 1007 – 6. Gigue (Vivace)
Mischa Maisky – Cello Suite No. 1 In G, BWV 1007 – 6. Gigue (Vivace)

Well, the Yo-Yo Ma recordings have been perhaps the most widely known and heard in recent years, but they have never been my favorites.

The recordings by Pablo Casals are legendary, and were actually my introduction to this music—a great and interesting, and unusual, way to discover the cello suites, as Casals was discovering them himself in these records. Before he started playing them, the cello suites were considered essentially unplayable technical exercises. Casals reintroduced them to the repertoire.

My favorite recording of the cello suites would either be one of the ones by Janos Starker or the more recent one by Mstislav Rostropovich. I’m not sure I can explain why. Starker’s fifth recording of the suites has a purity and beauty and intelligence which for me has seldom been approached by any other recorded music. Rostropovich’s has the discovery and excitement that I sense in Casals—amazing that they would still be so fresh for Rostropovich, after so many years—and this recording also has the musicality, the feel for the suites as dance pieces, which you hear also in the Pierre Fournier, another version I enjoy.

Last year a new recording came out, by Steven Isserlis, that has been a big hit and received rave reviews, but I haven’t had a chance to really listen to it yet. I mean really: sitting in the dark, with the whole album playing at a proper volume.  And then again. And then listening to it alongside one of the other versions. After I’ve had a chance to grapple in this way with the Isserlis vesion, I’ll let you know what I think—but my first impression is that it is all the reviews promise. Full of the depth and warmth of the Rostropovich, intelligent, clear.

A book also came out recently discussing the cello suites—though again, I haven’t had a chance to process it: Eric Siblin – The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.

How wonderful that this music still excites people…

You can find all the albums mentioned on Amazon.com:

And downloadable copies of some are also available:

Finally… here is Pablo Casals playing in 1954

and Rostropovich

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows

zerode

is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.

 

What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

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